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Engaging the World with a Critical Mind

In recent years, pressure has increased on social science and humanities researchers to broaden the impact of the knowledge they produce by disseminating research results beyond the traditional public presentations or publication in scholarly journals and books. A key objective of funding agencies today is to make research accessible to non-academic audiences in formats that are user friendly. Concurrent with this call for wider public dissemination is the rise of new digital media formats that have both created new audiences and also emerged as the most accessible means of communicating results across the globe. As a result, scholarly work across the social sciences and humanities is appearing increasingly in digital formats, and a growing number of scholars are utilizing various new media as a means of “publishing” research.

To appreciate the potential of new media for the mobilization of knowledge in the social sciences and humanities we only need to look back to 1913 in what is now Thunder Bay. At that time Robert Flaherty began working with moving pictures on an idea that became “Nanook of the North.” Using existing technologies, Flaherty put the knowledge he gathered about Inuit lifeways into a format that reached audiences around the world. Flaherty was the “father of documentary film,” and he created a new way to share information. His innovation was at once profound and engaging. Flaherty’s innovative approach shaped filmmaking and knowledge transfer throughout the 20th century. One hundred years after work began on “Nanook of the North,” the world finds itself in another significant era of media in transition and the opportunities created by new media for knowledge mobilization by researchers in the social sciences and humanities have never been better.

In May 2012 Google released a report that showed how on-demand video consumption is increasing dramatically in what they call the Gen V group (18-34 year olds). According to the study, there are 4 billion videos watched on YouTube everyday, and nearly 1 trillion views in 2011. Only 33% of Gen V’s have traditional TV packages such as cable or satellite and they are twice as likely to stream video rather than watch it on traditional television screens. Furthermore, the CBC says that Canadians with one screen are online for an average of 16.5 hours per week, and those with more than one screen spend an average of 27.1 hours per week on the web. Further, Canadians spend more than five hours on the internet watching online videos. Multi-screen users, sometimes called “Four-Screen” Canadians, are people who have a computer and at least one other device (smartphone, SmartTV, tablet) at their disposal, and this type of media consumption is a reflection of the phenomenal increase in the demand for “transmedia,” or cross-media platforms in recent years. The Resources, Economy and Society Research Group at Lakehead University (RESRG) is therefore pleased to serve as the platform for the launch of a new tool developed by one of our members for teaching about the challenges of international development. This tool combines the innovations made possible by Robert Flaherty and takes advantage of recent advances in new media to provide the public with insights into international development that are both profound and engaging.

Engaging the World is an interactive non-linear documentary film by Ron Harpelle. The documentary was made using the Korsakow System to generate viewing options that form an evolving structure for the film. This interactive, non-linear web doc provides viewers with insights based on conversations with a number of dynamic individuals who work in the field of international development. Engaging the World is different from other documentary forms because with the Korsakow System the viewer, not the director, decides the order in which the scenes unfold and the conclusion is what the viewer concludes based on their individual viewing experience. Every person who watches Engaging the World sees a different combination of critically interacting video components and the result is a different film every time. The foundation for Engaging the World are 52 individual videos that are linked together by keywords that self generate viewing options for the next video segment to form an evolving structure for the film. The individual videos have been edited to provide short answers to questions about international development, but the viewer chooses the questions to be answered.

The beauty of an interactive film like Engaging the World is that the main elements are stand alone videos that can be appreciated on their own or as one in a series of related videos. The individual videos are no more than a few minutes in length, but the entire film is two hours long if the viewer chooses to watch every video component in the sequence. Therefore, the film can be short, medium or feature length. You can watch Engaging the World between bus stops on the way to work. You can leave it on your desktop so that you can return to it at your convenience. Or you can sit down and make an evening of it. A viewer can also start the film over as many times as they like and always get a different result. Similarly, the order can be completely random, carefully structured or any combination of the two. Viewers watch the film at their own pace and can stop anywhere they choose. All of this makes Engaging the World something you can enjoy on your own, with your family, with friends or with students you want to engage in critical thinking about some very big issues.

RESRG welcomes people interested in knowledge mobilization to explore this new tool to see how it works and to imagine how a Korsakow film can be used to mobilize other knowledge about research in the social sciences and humanities.

Click here to Engage the World!